Not The Morning Update

Why, exactly, is climate not weather?

Today, on the day Paul Krugman tells us that a bunch of politicians getting together and posing for photographs and brunching excessively has saved the planet, I feel motivated to ask this question:

What do people mean when they tell us, repeatedly, that climate is not weather? Or if you wonder how we’re predicting the climate and its effects 100 years from now, when we can’t reliably predict the weather 12 hours from now, and sometimes cannot accurately predict the weather as it’s happening, why does someone shake their head sadly about what a moron you are and explains: weather and climate are not the same thing, you sad, mentally-limited man-child.

I mean, why is the answer to the observation that we are not good at predicting the future for complex systems even in the near term essentially: “Well, the stock market is not the same thing as a large river with many tributaries”. I am aware that a watermelon is not a football, but if I want to say something about the shape of the football, the watermelon might still have some relevance. Just saying: “a watermelon is not a football” does not suddenly make a watermelon a trapezoid.

The official explanation is that climate is simple while weather is complex. Which, summarized thusly, seems an absurd statement. What they actually say, in their own words:

Weather is chaotic, making prediction difficult. However, climate takes a long term view, averaging weather out over time. This removes the chaotic element, enabling climate models to successfully predict future climate change.

… isn’t much better. There is very little evidence that climate models are able to successfully predict future climate change. And I find it interesting that a site that calls itself “skeptical science” blithely asserts that the climate models are predicting the future without the most basic evidence—the actual prediction of the future.

Also, you cannot reduce the complexity of a million or a billion inputs by averaging. Again, where are the skeptics (not to mention the mathematicians) at Skeptical Science? The assertion that climate can be accurately predicted (because averaging!) while the weather 12 hours from now, much less 3 days from now, cannot reminds me of that cartoon. You know the one.

miracle

I would also observe that every time there is a severe or unusual weather event, climate suddenly becomes the cause for the weather. Which, to me, begs the question why we cannot use our infinitely accurate climate models to start predicting the weather. Wait, I know! Because we’ve tried it, and it turns out those predictions were wrong, too.

I have come to the not unreasonable conclusion that climate ≠ weather in the context of anthropogenic climate change because we have ample, daily evidence that the behaviors of a complex system cannot be predicted with any degree of accuracy. The predictions of climate change are always far in the future, and evidence of inaccuracy of such predictions so far in the past they can be dismissed, or the data massaged. Harder the argue that, yes, it was sunny yesterday, even though the leaves are still wet from all the rain.

Tangentially related, even mainstream, largely liberal news organs like Time and Newsweek had to observe that the Paris talks were far less about climate or “saving the planet” than they were about making money, creating markets, and allocating capital.

Off the mainstream, WND says the same thing with more chutzpah.

Finally, How Climate Change Deniers Sound to Normal People:

 

Because anybody who doesn’t agree with me ideologically is abnormal. And sounds like an idiot to all the normal people. Conform, you abberants! Conform!

15 Responses

  1. MIT meteorology scientist poo-poos climate change alarmists. Thus, is not a scientist, and doesn’t understand that meteorology is not climate! What a non-cow-poop.

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  2. It can rain in the Sahara, Kevin. And there are sunny days in Seattle. It can’t be that difficult to distinguish climate and weather.

    As for the remainder, the uncertainty in the average of a normal distribution (also called Gaussian) is inversely proportional to the square root in the number of measurements. In my current work, I’m measuring light scattering from aerosols. Moment to moment, it varies wildly even though I’m dealing with monodisperse microspheres (NIST certified, even). Running a few thousand of those little suckers through my system and the average converges just as the average of rolling two dice is 7. One particle is weather; ten thousand is climate.

    BB

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    • “It can rain in the Sahara, Kevin. And there are sunny days in Seattle. It can’t be that difficult to distinguish climate and weather.”

      That’s exactly what I’m talking about, actually. When people make the comparison between weather and climate in terms of prediction, they know this. It’s ultimately a straw man argument, because they are not saying that weather is climate, they are saying it makes an excellent example as to our powers of long term prognostication. Simple reducing climate to an average temperature(!) does not make the complex factors that go into the climate go away, nor is in an accurate description of what climate is, or what we mean, generally, when we talk about the climate.

      In any case, I am a layperson, so perhaps anthropogenic factors drive the average temperature of the entire planet or perhaps they are a small contributor or perhaps they have almost no effect. My understanding would lead me to conclude the latter, but I am not an expert in meteorology or climatology. But in my judgement, I feel 99.9% sure that carbon taxes, carbon offsets, pricing carbon, and so on and so forth will cost some people money, make others lots of money, and have no effect on the trajectory of the climate whatsoever.

      But, FB: thanks for responding. Nobody else here did! Thus, it is my scientific consensus that they’re all a bunch of losers and you rock.

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      • KW:

        But in my judgement, I feel 99.9% sure that carbon taxes, carbon offsets, pricing carbon, and so on and so forth will cost some people money, make others lots of money, and have no effect on the trajectory of the climate whatsoever.

        Precisely. And anyone who thinks that the Chicken Little community isn’t being driven by members of the middle group is being naive.

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      • Scott has now replied, so he also rocks, and is awesome. Everybody except Scott and FB are officially “KW Awesomeness Denialists” in my book.

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  3. Thanks for the response, Kevin. Global average temperature is about as useful a metric as IQ. There is a wealth of detail on current effects of climate change. Changes in ocean pH, ice mass on Greenland, tree lines in the Rockies, spread of tropical species (and associated diseases such as dengue fever)…

    Given that CO2, CO, CH4 and other chemical do absorb infrared radiation, they are decreasing the infrared albedo of the planet. From that point, all you need to know is a bit about black body radiation to understand that a decrease in albedo leads to an increase in equilibrium temperature. But, hey, vibrational spectroscopy isn’t a matter of faith for me.

    BB

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  4. FB: “Given that CO2, CO, CH4 and other chemical do absorb infrared radiation, they are decreasing the infrared albedo of the planet. From that point, all you need to know is a bit about black body radiation to understand that a decrease in albedo leads to an increase in equilibrium temperature. But, hey, vibrational spectroscopy isn’t a matter of faith for me.”

    This sounds entirely credible to me! And ultimately, controlling the by-products of our energy generation is a net good, though I would prefer we do that rather than decrease the amount of energy we use (except in increasing efficiency, so less energy = more or superior productive output). I also think, in the real world, controlling output of CO2 and CO, etc, is more doable and amenable to technological solution than the reduction of energy usage is amenable to policy proscriptions.

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  5. Well said, Kevin. I hold that market approaches such as carbon pricing or cap and trade are superior to regulatory limits on emissions or MPG requirements. It doesn’t always work. As an example, anything that has a localized effect. Doesn’t help much to limit arsenic pollution if you’re next to a factory that has bought credits elsewhere.

    Ultimately, the experiment is being run. The flip side of denial is arrogance. The Earth and its biosphere long predate our emergence. Species will adapt to no conditions or die out. That includes us. There are ice ages and hot ages to come. It may be that melting the polar ice caps will result in such an increase in water surface that the albedo of the Earth changes such that much more radiation is reflected into space. If so, stock up on fur coats and snow boots.

    BB

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